Federal officials, including representatives from Vice President Mike Pence’s office, the Department of Justice and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), held secret meetings about marijuana enforcement this week with state and local officials in Colorado.
According to KKTV, the CBS affiliate in Colorado Springs, the federal delegation met with Mayor John Suthers (R), as well as the city’s chief of police, on Wednesday. While the gathering wasn’t disclosed to the public, the news station apparently got an advance tip from someone in the know, because they aired footage of attendees waiting in the lobby for the meeting to start.
Suthers, a former state attorney general and federal prosecutor who strongly opposed Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, said when pressed that the meeting concerned the “huge black market that exists for marijuana in Colorado” and “sensitive case investigations.”
KKTV also revealed that the Trump administration delegation met with Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) earlier this week, and has been reaching out to local officials from other Colorado municipalities. The Colorado Springs Gazette confirmed the details and added that Hickenlooper himself did not attend any of the meetings.
While it could be the case that the federal officials are seeking to work with state and local law enforcement to coordinate actions against marijuana activity that runs contrary to state law, the involvement of the Pence’s office and ONDCP, commonly referred to as the White House drug czar’s office, suggests that there could be political or policy implications at play.
While President Trump repeatedly pledged on the campaign trail that he would respect state cannabis laws, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has long been a vocal legalization opponent and has directed Justice Department officials to conduct a review of federal marijuana enforcement policies that were put into place by the Obama administration.
Those guidelines, known as the Cole Memo after the former Justice Department official who authored them, give states a roadmap for how they can generally avoid federal interference with their marijuana laws. One of the eight considerations in the memo is reducing diversion of state-legal marijuana into jurisdictions where prohibition remains in effect.
The Justice Department task force’s marijuana enforcement recommendations are due to Sessions by next Thursday, July 27. It is unknown how soon thereafter the suggestions would be made public or when a federal policy changed could be announced, if at all.
Also in attendance at the meeting in Suthers’s office were Gregory Ecks, the director of student discipline services for Colorado Springs School District 11, and Dr. Kenneth Finn. Both have vocally opposed marijuana legalization.
Ecks gave a presentation at a meeting convened last year by Smart Colorado, an anti-marijuana organization, in which he argued that schools aren’t seeing the cannabis tax revenue promised by legalization advocates.
Finn co-authored an op-ed with the director of the Colorado affiliate of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the nation’s leading prohibitionist organization.
“Colorado’s failed marijuana policies are harming many while the industry gets rich,” the two wrote. “It’s not an experiment — it’s the same thing we have seen from other commercialized drugs.”
As a member of the U.S. House, Pence voted six times to oppose amendments to prevent the Justice Department from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
Last month, MassRoots obtained a letter that Sessions sent to Congressional leaders asking them to undo those state protections, which have been federal law since 2014.